Young Swiss urged to vote

Young parliamentarians Toni Brunner, Ursula Wyss and Carmen Haag (from left to right) Keystone

“Don’t bury your head in the sand – get out and vote” is the message Swiss youth organisations are sending out to the under-35s ahead of October’s general election.

This content was published on September 11, 2003 - 16:35

Faced with growing apathy, campaigners are hoping to persuade at least 30 per cent of young Swiss voters to cast their ballot.

Just 26 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds turned out to vote in the 1999 general election.

The “Vote Young” campaign hopes to improve the turnout this year. It was launched by the umbrella group for Swiss youth organisations and the youth wings of the four main political parties.

Thomas Schmidt, president of the youth section of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party, told swissinfo that the aim was to stimulate young people’s interest in political life.

To sell the subject to younger voters, organisers have set up an interactive website where people can find out which candidates best represent their own political views.

The less-politically minded can also go online and watch cartoon characters of Switzerland’s cabinet ministers dance in time to music.

“The website tries to sell a serious subject in a less serious way,” said Schmidt.

“But our main task is to make politics more credible again, to show that politics is a way to change the world – especially through our country’s system of direct democracy.”

Direct democracy

Schmidt said that if they succeeded in selling this message, “direct democracy in Switzerland will see a new birth”.

Failure to do so would discredit Switzerland’s political system and leave individuals without a voice.

Part of the campaign is also focused at ensuring better representation of the under-35s at a national level.

“Only three of the 200 parliamentarians in the House of Representatives are under 30 years old,” revealed Miriam Wetter, president of the umbrella group for Swiss youth organisations.

“So there is a real urgency to get more young people in there, and in order to do that we need young people to go and vote.”

Uphill task

However, campaigners face an uphill task. A recent study by Fribourg University found that young people are not interested in politics and are less politically aware than their counterparts in other countries.

But the People’s Party’s Thomas Schmidt rejects these findings, pointing to the mass protests against the United States-led war in Iraq that took place across the country earlier this year.

“[It goes to show that] young people are not completely disinterested in political life,” argued Schmid.

He, along with his fellow campaigners, believes that issues such as whether Switzerland should join the European Union, immigration and social security reforms can all be sold – in the right package.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

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